3 Steps to Finding Your True Writing Voice

image of singer at the mic

As a professional copywriter, there’s one question that tends to pop up constantly from my readers and clients … “Can you teach me to write like you?”

My knee-jerk answer is usually something like, “Um. No. There is no other like me! I reign supreme! Me! Me! Me!”

OK, I’m not really that egocentric.

But I do typically respond with something along the lines of “I’d love to teach you how, but I don’t know how I do it … I just do it.” And then I run off to a dark corner somewhere to eat sweet potato French fries like they’re going outta style.

Writing meaningful, effective content day in and day out is difficult. To say the least.

I’ve thought a lot about how I get it done, and have come up 3 steps that serve me well, over and over again.

At least, it’s how I think I get it done ;)

The holy grail for aspiring writers

I’ve struggled to convey just how I (and others I admire) actually write the way I do.

I’ve wanted to teach it in a way that you, the reader, can take and immediately implement on your own.

This is the one question that won’t. Stay. Down! Kinda like that game where you beat the hedgehog down and then an identical one pops up to take its place? Yeah. Like that.

It seems that in my rather meandering journey to becoming a ghostwriter-cum-blogger, I unexpectedly stumbled upon what seems to be the Holy Grail for many aspiring writers.

I’m talking about my voice.

It’s distinct. I like to think it’s funny and charming. I’ve been told it’s fairly no-bulls***.

Above all, it’s mine, oh mine, oh mine!

Regardless of where I guest blog, my voice is recognizable.

People read my stuff and they’re like “Hey … I know who this is!”

That happens even if readers don’t yet know that I am, in fact, the author. My friend Abby Kerr does this very well too.

You could say that that voice has now become part and parcel of my “brand”.

So, in the interest of fighting the good fight and teaching ya’ll something useful … I’ll now attempt to give you some pointers on how to unearth your own “voice” and write content that oozes your own flava.

In this process, you might even begin to find ways to brand yourself (so be ready!).

Here’s my 3 key steps to finding your voice and brand, mojo-writer style.

1. Speak your reader’s language

This may come as a surprise, but not everyone who reads your site is going to be a Harvard grad that speaks “ivy league” or whatever other language you specialize in.

Most folks reading online are reading at a grade school level.

That means all those big words you use are making people run screaming in the other direction.

It also means that cool industry lingo you’re so proud of throwing around is mostly falling on deaf ears.

Probably not what you intended to happen right?

When we write, we are creating content with a purpose. We want people to read it, to understand it, to enjoy it and absorb it.

Maybe we want them to take action — maybe we just want them to feel good after reading it.

They are only going to feel a whole lot of frustration if everything you say whips right over their head or they feel like you’re talking down to them because you can’t control your insane need to sound smarter than you probably are.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy advice, right?

Stop talking at your readers.

Stop talking over them.

Stop talking through them.

Talk to them, in simple lingo.

Write like you’re plopped down with them and sharing a cup of coffee and a bit of convo. My buddy SuiteJ pretty much nails this style and implements tip number 3 (we’ll get to it shortly) like gangbusters!

The result? You might be surprised at how many of them are willing to talk back with you.

2. Know why you are writing

All the writing skill in the world won’t do you any favors if you don’t know why you’re writing in the first place.

Lack of purpose is the death of success.

When you write something that has a clear cut purpose it’s reflected in a positive way. There is flow, there is rhythm and there is direction.

If you’re writing without a purpose, it’s kind of like doing one of those writing exercises where you just slap every thought that pops into your head onto paper.

Have you ever tried to read those things afterwards? Crikey, it gives me a headache just thinking about it.

If that’s what you’re serving up to your readers, you might as well be handing out free Tylenol in little blog goodie bags. At least that would be useful!

So if you want to nail down your own unique “voice” you need to start with purpose.

From purpose, passion is born.

From passion you are born, in all your unique glory.

Every piece of content you publish should have your name all over it, in more ways than one!

And that leads nicely into my last tip …

3. Brand it, baby

In addition to speaking your reader’s language and knowing why you’re writing in the first place, sprinkle your work liberally with your own little stamps of distinction.

For instance, people who read my content often recognize my voice simply because I use words like shite, or frack, or ya’ll. Or even crikey.

Maybe there are words you tend to gravitate towards on a regular basis, that perhaps not everyone uses.

Or, maybe you have some sort of signature “how ‘dee do” or “fare thee well” that you use regularly.

Maybe it’s not in the words you use specifically, but in the way you tie them together.

Perhaps you like to inject silly jokes or clichés in your content. (That’d be me!) Or maybe you’re madly uncomfortable with writing with a bit of humor and prefer to adopt a 100% serious tone. That’s still branding and it’s OK too (though it may not win you very many friends, just sayin’).

Regardless of which tic you like to tac, there are a variety of ways you can tweak your content and utilize your quirks, so that it reflects you and allows your “voice” to sparkle.

You just have to allow yourself to find them.

Any questions?

There now. I hope you found these three tips useful.

It’s hard sometimes to nail down how to find your “voice”.

The process is often different for everyone and some folks come by it more easily than others. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be learned though, and if it can be learned it can be taught!

Hopefully you’ve learned a little something here today and if you’ve got questions, please drop them in the comments below.

And, if you’d like more teaching, mayhap Brian and Sonia will invite me back sometime ;)

Oh, and don’t forget folks … sharing is sexy! (No really, it is! I swear! Just ask Kristi!)

About the Author: Cori Padgett is a wildly hire-able freelance ‘ghost’ as well as the creative brains and dubious brawn behind her blog Big Girl Branding. If you’d like to harness her creative brains and dubious brawn to write for your blog, just stalk her on Twitter and ask. I’m “almost” sure she doesn’t bite. Well… like 95% sure.

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  1. As far as I know, there’s only one way to find your voice: *using it*.

    Then you listen to what you just said, you observe how people react.

    Do it i over and over again, and a uniqueness will arise; your own.

  2. Hmmm…which tic I like to tac….LOVE it!

    You’ve definitely got me thinking about branding my voice. I suppose I could also brand my point of view, my opinions, my message, my perspective. All related of course to my purpose! Brilliant post. Hope you’re back for an encore!

    • ;) Glad you enjoyed and you’re thinking Ruth! Definitely, your brand is all of that wrapped up into a package.. it’s what makes spectacular brands stand out, when they incorporate more than just logos, colors, and designs.. it’s the message, what is said, how it’s delivered, so many little things that add up to awesome.

  3. To find your voice takes the amazing ability to actually WRITE! Ohhh, it is so hard to move from the dream state of wanting to be the person you dream of to actually taking action and doing it. Most never get out of the chair. There is some controversy around organized tribes, but when I started blogging I joined one and it really gave some self discipline to write something every week. In most tribes the creme’ rises to the top and I wanted to be on top so it also gave me the motivation to master what I was doing. I am no longer involved with any organized tribes, but it was a big help and it was the thing that actually got me WRITING. Great post. Will share and hopefully you are on Google+.

    • Hey Nicole… I agree sometimes you need a little “outside help” to hold yourself accountable for your goals, no matter WHAT they may be. I’m not yet on Google+ (I know, I’m a slacker) but it’s on my agenda to check it out! lol

  4. Cori–you do have a wonderful, natural style. I think your distinct design helps you stand apart, too…:).

    Not to boast, but some of my brethren ( I know, it’s not a grade-school level word, but I love that one;)) admire my attitude, honesty, and directness when writing about dealing with life’s issues. It’s essential to have a picture of someone in your head when writing if you want to avoid research paper-itis…

    Reading out loud before hitting ‘publish’ helps, as well as having a sense of humor.

    Thanks for the on-target reminders, and I hope you’ll be back for an encore, too!

    • Hey Linda! No doubt, I think branding is a total package, no one single thing. So my design helps I’m sure! I love brethen too… I’m a dork, I always use uncommon words, made up words, and words that just sound cool. I’m a huge advocate of reading out loud, and creating an “avatar” if you will of who you’re writing too. It helps massively in giving the right message to the right audience. Thanks for dropping in sweetie!

  5. It’s interesting to think about finding your “voice,” because in our industry (IVR) we’re really about using “voice” instead of written words. As more and more of human communication becomes conducted through social media, the ability to truly reflect your voice in writing as you would when you were speaking will become essential–not just for writers, not just for business people, but for anyone who wants to operate with any semblance of social normalcy.

    Thanks for the great post!
    Tracy

    • Hey Tracy… so true! Social media has become the “new normal” (sorry that term is just totally stuck in my head lately) and if you want to stay relatable you’ve got to learn how to become relatable through the written word.

  6. Wow, you really walk the walk! I can definitely see your unique voice, just in this post. Thanks for the helpful tips and example! I have found that I love to tweak cliche sayings like “early bird gets the worm” and “easy as cake” just a little, so that they fit to whatever I’m talking about in my writing.

  7. As soon as I saw “shite,” I knew it was you! A very strong example of the power of branding and voice.

    Excellent post, and it’s really cool to see you here on copyblogger!

  8. Now I want some sweet potato fries. Mmmm

  9. I recently started blogging on behalf of a non-profit for which volunteer & I agree with you 100% about finding your writing voice. I’ve always written from a conversational stance (the writing just flows more smoothly) and I definitely have the passion now since I started my volunteer work. Never thought about the branding thing until now, though, but now I understand why I can come across a report (at work) years later & know that I wrote it even before I see the name on the report. Thanks for a great blog.

    • Hey Pamela glad you enjoyed! Conversational and passionate does help one find the groove I think. Glad I could inspire you to consider something new. :)

  10. My voice is the one of reason and logic….Well, actually the exact opposite of those words….

    Knowing why I write still escapes me….I guess I write to simply write…

    As for my brand, well, it will be known my many and remembered by none.

    • Lol… well I’d have to suggest figuring out the why part sometime in the near future. If you have no purpose, what’s the point? Doesn’t have to be a business related purpose, but a purpose nonetheless. :)

  11. After reading and writing for a long time, sometimes I feel like I get lost in someone else’s writing style and subconsciously adopt that author’s style as my own. How do I stop this? Id love to express my own voice and style, but I’m just not sure how.

    • I think it becomes more about writing and less about reading others once you get to a point like that. It’s great to take some time and read because you learn new things, but don’t make it your primary focus… at the end of the day writing is what your goal is, and writing is what you should do, and the more you write, the more your find and develop your own style and voice. If you find yourself subconsciously adopting someone’s style and catch it, take a break from reading them for awhile and focus on writing as much as you can to try and force them out. A bit like an exorcism! ;)

  12. Great post, Cori. I think voice is so overlooked as a key to good writing. It’s not just what you say–how you say it really, deeply matters. Voice is hard because we get so bogged down in rules and grammar when we learn to write as kids. It’s about being unique and personal in spite of those rules, and breaking them sometimes, too.

    Voice is like a musician’s sound or a painter’s composition–it’s that important to good writing. Like you say, the hard part is finding it. I love your 3 ways to do that. I’d just add #4, which is to write a ton. The more you write, the more natural your voice becomes. Thanks so much for this post about such a key to good writing.

    (Also, I was in a hilarious online debate recently over the word “y’all” and where the apostrophe goes. I think it’s y’all, but you go with ya’ll… Hmmm… People were virtually throwing tantrums over this. Talk about voice!)

    • Hey Baker! Yeah I tend to thumb my nose a bit at the grammar police. At the end of the day the bigger picture is what’s important. And I agree, the more you write the easier it becomes and the more YOU emerge.

      Oh and in regards the the ya’ll debate.. you’re operating on the premise that ya’ll is a contraction of “you all”… whereas when I say ya’ll… it’s simply it’s own damn word! LOL ;)

  13. Brilliant! Thank you so much. So encouraging for us who are striving to match our words, energy and writing.

  14. Cori, loved this post!

    I think one of the biggest things that holds writers back from having such a distinguished voice (like yours – it’s fantastic) is a lack of confidence.

    If you’re not confident in your writing, you may think that sticking to your true voice will just make you sound stupid (I know because I used to be one of these writers!). Confidence is the key to shining in your writing.

    And if you’re not confident, no problem – go read some Copyblogger posts (big smile), get a writing coach, join a writing critique group, but most of all, keep learning and strive to constantly improve!

    • Hey Krista! So true, confidence is HUGE. I know many good writers that are held back from a lack of confidence in themselves, it’s so important to find that for yourself. Or do what the rest of us do and fake it till we make it. ;) No one knows about your lack of confidence except you, unless you tell them!

  15. Self-awareness of voice is critical, too, because sometimes we have to consciously change voices. For example, I may use my regular voice on corporate blog postings or web work — one that’s less formal, using short sentences and paragraphs — and switch to a little more corporate velvet for the big glossy brochure. In other words, we need to be cognizant that the voice matches the expectations of the audience.

    • Hey Andrew–this is an awesome point. The voice has to match the message and the purpose.

      I always think that voice has to be very versatile. Not all of our writing should sound exactly the same–because when we’re writing we have to be thinking about audience (true whether we write ad copy, fiction, or greeting cards or anything). What’s the BEST voice to get our point across? That’s always got to be one of the chainsaws writers juggle. Thanks for your point!

      • I think you’re totally correct on versatility — it’s essential. To use a musical analogy (which I frequently do), you may have found your distinct opera voice, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work at a blues club. To me, the most talented artists have a default style or voice, but they can play in other arenas, too.

        • I like your style, Andrew! Prose is musical as much as poetry or the blues, I believe, and I use musical analogies a lot, too. Really, when we talk about voice, a lot of what we mean is the music made by the words.

          And that’s a great point about artists having a distinct voice, but that the good ones can adapt it. Good stuff, glad to chat with you here!

    • Hey Andrew… well said, love the analogy! It’s probably something that has served me well, my ability to be versatile in ghosting for my clients, and it’s SO true in writing successfully. It comes down to knowing who you’re writing to, and actually writing to THEM.

  16. I don’t know but when I read my write-up after a few days, I feel as if I was having a ‘bad throat’ when I wrote it :S It is quite similar to the feeling that you get when you keep looking at your blog time and again (which looked quite sleek in the early days) you start feeling it’s quite dull and others have a better one… same goes with your Girlfriend and Writing Voice. Though my clients are always more than happy with my tone and style, but I feel as if there was something missing and I could have done a lot better than this… in short, I don’t like my voice too much while others do.

    Is there anyone else with similar feelings or am I the only soul with this feeling?

    • I’m sure there are many writers who suffer from similar feelings, it’s human to compare ourselves to others we “perceive” as “doing it better”. However you have to ask yourself if “doing it better” is really “doing you”. And are they really “doing it better” or just “doing it different”?

      Comparing yourself to someone else is a losing game and the sooner you realize it and consciously start forcing yourself to stop, the happier with your results you will be. Start listening to feedback… if others are happy with the work you’re doing, should you be at least a wee bit happy too?

      They can’t all be wrong, and it’s likely you’re suffering from a self-esteem/self-confidence issue that can probably be overcome by writing more, acknowledging your successes, and finding the ability to appreciate all the ways you kick ass. :)

  17. Hi Cori, what you described sounds like a full-time job, most people that get into blogging for revenue think that you just have to buy a domain with hosting, write whats in your mind and advertisers will start competing to give you money! thanks for reminding everybody its not that easy.

  18. I loved this post, but you probably don’t need my throwing my own kudos into the ring to already be feeling the love, judging from the comments above. :)

    How long do you think it took you to really nail down your own voice? Do you see your writing as having gone through various stages of development over the years of your profession?

    • Ha.. thanks Emma! :) Always nice to hear someone likes my work. I’ve actually only been writing as a profession for a few years. I’d say the first year was a big crash course for me, and then in the following years I gradually came into my own, so to speak. It became a matter of recognizing I had talent, finding my confidence, and shrugging off the expectations of the rest of the world in favor of the expectations I had of myself. It didn’t happen overnight, but I don’t necessarily think it should take someone several years either to find their groove. With enough motivation, I believe anyone can learn to write successfully, as defined by their own view of success. :)

  19. Yeah.. it is very important to know what your reader want to read at your site. In other word – their expectation (or sometimes surprise).

    Make them read what you want to say and understand your point. That’s it!

  20. Great presentation Cori. I have read about these tips before by other authors but I can see the uniqueness of your candid presentation. There is a big gap when one is speaking (or writing) from real life experience than presenting a mere research on the topic. The former generate your unique writing voice that most readers appreciate. Thank you for sharing these wonderful lessons. Blessings and best regards to all your endeavors.

    • Thanks Jonan, glad you enjoyed. That’s definitely a huge distinction… writing from experience gives a huge boost to your confidence and allows your true voice to come out.

  21. Great tips you have shared in here that’s useful for copywriters. What I can say is that practice makes perfect so for writers out there, try to develop your skills by writing constantly.

  22. I think that the first rule is the most important. Valmiki wrote the Ramayama in India long go. It was for the rare few with lots of education. Then Tulsidas re-wrote this book (scripture) so the common person can understand it. His rewritten version is the most popular book in India with its over one billion people. The first version was elegant and scholarly. Tulsidas’ version was simple and passionate.

  23. Joseph Dabon :

    My current idol is Sean Platt, a ghost writer with a human face. I love his writing style but could not and never will write like him. Nor do I aspire to be like him. If I am to be a good freelance writer I have to be me and not somebody else. I have to find, learn and cultivate my own style to suit my intended readers. That way I can say that “I did it my way.”

    Sean Platt is my idol because after all these years bumming around the Internet he is the only one, so far, who answers personal emails pronto. He started it with his Ask Me Anything header. He gives gold of advice free. He even gave me samples of his excellent sales pages complete with graphics and the site where he got them. He led me to Premise, the WP platform he uses in writing his sales pages.

    If people out there want to get in touch with him and receive his weekly newsletter, email me and I will gladly lead you to him.

    • Hey Joseph.. I love Sean too. :) And it’s awesome when you find people who are kind and giving, in addition to being talented!

      • Nice to know that you know him, too.

        Yeah, I’ve never met someone in the Net who is as giving as he is. I thought he would give up on me for my stupid questions. But he just kept answering my emails without a grunt.

        It’s difficult to follow him, though. But then I guess we have to be “US” and nobody else in this world of writing.

        Thanks for the comment. Made me feel not so lonely.

        Take care.

  24. Hey All..just wanted to let you know I’ve been out all day tying up issues regarding my dad’s estate, however I’ve read every comment thus far, and I will respond to you all asap, hopefully tomorrow morning.. for tonight, I’m beat!

    However I so appreciate the warm welcome to CB and the kind words from all of you.. and SO glad you enjoyed the post! :) Talk soon, xo!

  25. this was really an interesting read! I hope I find a distinct style to write in later on :)

  26. Hi Cori, I’m new to the blogging world and your post is one of those treasured little gems that comes out of the blue, straight to my inbox, just when I need it. Cheers!

  27. For some peope it seems to be easy to write, for others it seems difficult.

    Maybe they should consider video or podcast?

    • Video and podcasts are always an option if you are trying to spread a message. I’m not so hot with video and podcasts, I prefer words but everyone is different. Some folks do phenomenally well using different mediums or a blend of all mediums.

  28. I liked the part about the reading level of the audience. Yikes! You make several valid points that writers tend to overlook. Thanks for the advice.

  29. Thank you for the fun article! I noticed in all of Elmer Kelton’s books he made a reference to a ‘hydrophobic dog’,
    He must have got a kick of that word.
    I got a lot of ideas from your post, Thanks again!

  30. Well written article, how true, write as though you are sitting face to face. That will certainly help me that’s a great nugget of information. thank you keep up the great work.
    Best regards Steve

  31. Cori, you gave me a lot to think about and I really appreciate this post! Very encouraging and thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work!

    Best regards,

    Arnold

  32. I tend to use the word “wacko” a lot. Good word. Also “shmutz.” Though I say that one more than write it.

    Great post!

    • Ha… shmutz… I like it! :) My brother keeps teasing me because I say bonkers all the time (I don’t write it much though, funnily enough). He says it makes me sound old, it’s a word from the 80′s. I said I was BORN in the 80′s dork, back off! LOL

  33. Cori,
    Nice stuff, keep it simple.
    Stop selling, and start helping your clients buy faster. It works!
    Keep up the great work, love your site BTW.
    -AJ

  34. Just so you know, I write ya’ll as well, then visited sites where spelling was y’all. felt I should try it their way, doesn’t work for me:) Thanks for inspiring writers to use their voice…it’s the one the good lord made special!

    Best,
    Clara.

    • Amen Clara! He gave us our voice for a reason, otherwise he’d have given us the ability to mimic flawlessly. lol Yeah, y’all doesn’t really work for me either. Feels weird!

  35. So glad I found your post this morning. As a professional musician (guitar player) for the past 40 something years I so much appreciate your reference to “voice.” There are so many guitar players who sound alike …. oh they may sound good, even very good … but you still can’t tell who they are. BUT you ALWAYS know when you’re listening to Carlos Santana. You ALWAYS know when you’re hearing Eric Clapton. You ALWAYS know when it’s Jimmi Hendrix, and so on. Why? unique voice, that’s why. Back in the day I wore the grooves out on Hendrix and Cream records (records? what’s that?) trying to copy their solos note for note, which I did. As time went on, those early influences melted and melded into my voice. So, thanks again for underscoring the importance of voice. On another note, so sorry about your dad.

    • Hey Marvin! SOOO TRUE! You can imitate someone to your hearts content and maybe even nail it… but at the end of the day, it’s an imitation and you need to turn that imitation into something of your own, that belongs to no one else. THAT’S what makes you special. :) And thanks for the condolences. It’s been hard but I’ve been keeping busy so it helps.

  36. I forget who linked me to this but I’m glad they did as I apparently missed this gem over the past few years. I find that, even when you know these guidelines, avoiding jargon can be tough, especially when your conditioning has you used to business speak.

    Now, conversations.. That’s powerful. I’ve written many a blog entry about speaking WITH people rather than AT.

    Here is where the ‘ol tribe-vs-community debate comes in. I suppose it depends on your goals…

    Regardless, it’s tempting to copy successful creatives but that won’t make you remarkable. As you said, just do it. Your voice and branding will develop over time so long as you set a clear purpose/direction.

    Thank you for these powerful reminders!

  37. I am just starting to get into the groove of writing and I have to say this. Sometimes I really, really wonder about the “flava I oozes”. But I just keep happily oozing along with not a care in the world. Hope that’s the right thing to do.

  38. Hi Cori,
    Great article with solid tips.
    I’d know your voice anywhere!

  39. Thank you Cori for your wisdom. Finding your voice is all part of being authentic. It’s not about trying to sound like someone else… it’s about sounding like yourself. When we are finally able to write our voice, I think we discover that our writing looks like what we hear inside our head :)

  40. Cori,
    So true. The one thing that many, if not most, writers struggle with is finding their own voice. It’s critical that we speak in our own voice and from our perspective if we are going to be authentic. The tips you share here can help us to do that. Thanks for the reminder.

  41. An example of finding your voice: you lose a doc and have to rewrite it. It feels like it comes out easily. Then you relocate the original document to realize you’d written the second one almost identically.
    One point I agree with is to “Speak your reader’s language.” Too many people write for their journals or their friends. Too few write to the person they’d actually like to have a long lunch with. Those are the people for who my work contains polysyllabic vocabulary, obscure and pop culture references, self-deprecation yet appeals to ethos, and some dash of humour.
    Most people get lost in what they think others sound like or what they believe others want them to sound. A voice takes years to cultivate, which means practice. So get to it. Sit the booty down and write!
    Cheers.

  42. I concur with your step #2: know why you want to write. Having been plagued with a post that could have splintered in two directions without some control. Finally, when I had all of my prewriting notes compiled, I just sat and patiently listened to what floated into my head when I asked: What is this post about? Usually, when faced with an inordinate amount of research and notes and few boundaries, I simplify what I’m trying to say by forcing myself to synopsize it into one or two sentences. Other methods that have helped with this include writing the hook for my book and optimizing the SEO on my blog.

    • Exactly… I can often start to feel overwhelmed if I have a lot of research compiled, and if I don’t know the specific purpose of what I’m writing, I just tend to float in a fog. Once I have a clear purpose, it makes it so much easier to use what I need and spit it out in a way that suits me. :)

  43. The first step is ridiculous. Speak in a different voice because someone might not be able to understand “big” words? That’s exactly the way to NOT find your voice. If the way you speak is, as you say “ivy league”, then that’s exactly how you should write. That’s your voice. If your writing is completely different than your speaking voice, you’re posturing. Why would you do that? Believe it or not, some people on the internet are intelligent.